Cubs

Miguel Montero likes the edge Cubs have brought into clubhouse

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Miguel Montero likes the edge Cubs have brought into clubhouse

MILWAUKEE — Miguel Montero looks around and realizes: “Wow, I’m the old man now.”

But that’s exactly what Cubs executives had in mind when they traded for Montero, taking on the three years and $40 million left on the All-Star catcher’s contract and sending two lower-level pitchers to the Arizona Diamondbacks.          

That trade closed during the same winter meetings in San Diego, where the Cubs won the Jon Lester sweepstakes and toasted their new $155 million ace. That led to another deal for backup catcher David Ross, reuniting the World Series battery for the 2013 Boston Red Sox.

Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department wanted to change a clubhouse culture that hadn’t really gone bad, but had been filled with too many placeholders, guys waiting to get traded or just fighting for survival. The Cubs needed more of an edge.     

“When you have guys that won in the past, they know how to win and they like to win,” Montero said before Friday’s 7-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. “It can be contagious to all the players. That was the main thing for (the front office) — to bring in guys that won in the past like Lester and Ross.

[MORE: Cubs survive while waiting to click on all cylinders]

“I just went to the playoffs — no farther than the playoffs — but this is farther than a lot of other guys (here). I’m competitive. I love to win…even playing video games.”

Montero sat back in his chair inside Miller Park’s visiting clubhouse, chilling at his locker and enjoying being back around a potential contender he tagged with “#wearegood” on his personal Twitter account.

“You got to believe it,” Montero said. “It’s something that I really, truly believe.”

The Cubs wanted that veteran confidence and been-there, done-that perspective for moments like this during the long season, coming off a disappointing series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Montero doesn’t want to be in a rebuilding situation.  

“You’re out of it in the first month of the season, it’s difficult to go to the field,” Montero said. “For what? To play for me? For my numbers? That’s pretty much it. I’m not that guy. I like to win. And I like to play to win. You do that, your numbers are going to be there.

[RELATED: Cubs: Joe Maddon hears from MLB after ripping umpire]

“You can’t really worry about the numbers. That’s what a lot of people get caught up in. They just care about their numbers. Do this, do that, and at the end of the day, we lost the game, but I had a good game. Does that take you somewhere? No.

“Because if you win and you go 0-for-4, I guarantee at the end of the year, you’re going to have a good season. The numbers are going to be there. Because that’s contagious. Hitting is contagious, so is pitching. It’s going to get to that point.

“We win a couple in a row, get back to winning series and take it from there. You’re going to feel invincible coming into a stadium.”

Montero feels like he did in 2011 and 2012, when he generated 33 homers and 174 RBI combined. His production so far — .286 average, .858 OPS and 13 RBI in 23 games — suggest that the three-catcher rotation could help him stay fresh.

“This year, I feel really good when I play,” Montero said. “Maybe a little off timing, because it’s hard when you’re used to playing every day and then you come here and you’re playing three times a week and every other day, things like that. Which I understand. That’s not part of my job.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“My job is when they put me in the lineup, be ready to play. But my swing feels good. My approach has been good. I’ve been driving the ball the other way more than the last two years, which is a good sign. Hopefully, it stays like that the whole year. This game is up and down, and I just hope the downs are a little bit shorter than the ups.”

Montero will turn 32 this summer and might feel old when he looks at someone like Addison Russell, who was born in 1994. Time will tell if the Cubs got this chemistry experiment right.

“I feel great,” Montero said. “All the guys have a lot of energy. I’m still a high-energy guy. But being around these guys will pump you up a little more.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”